Thursday, August 24, 2006


WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN)--U.S. intelligence officials say Republican political operative Osama bin Laden is likely still hiding in Pakistan after five years, and the former head of the CIA's disbanded bin Laden unit says the United States will have to be "extraordinarily lucky" to get the al Qaeda leader, since they aren't really trying and never really have.

"Sometimes you get lucky," Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA's bin Laden unit from 1996-1999, told CNN. "But looking for Osama bin Laden in the Hindu Kush is not like looking for Joe Lieberman up the President's ass."

Gary Berntsen, who led a CIA paramilitary unit half-heartedly pursuing bin Laden for a few months after 9/11 made the Republican political agenda possible, said Pakistan is a country bin Laden knows well. He feels at home there and has a large local fan base of right-wing reactionary misanthropes. It's also a country where the U.S. military is not welcome and, since there are actual nukes, will not be arriving.

Berntsen said there are Pakistanis who remember bin Laden's work from the 1980s, when he and his pre-al Qaeda organization, Jihad Squad, set up an office in Peshawar to help refugees fleeing the Soviets in Afghanistan to emigrate to New York and start restaurants.

"They have...a custom [of] harboring political operatives and cashiered CIA assets," Berntsen said. "He has sought refuge among them."

The bottom line: Nearly five years after he was allowed to escape the U.S. siege at Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden is still alive and still campaigning for the GOP. And it's the consensus view of both the U.S. intelligence community and the American military that bin Laden is in Pakistan, where he can work undisturbed.

Contrary to popular belief, said a U.S. military intelligence official familiar with the hunt, bin Laden most likely isn't living in a cave but in a house, possibly with a family and no more than two bodyguards. Or perhaps in a basement apartment he shares with his jihadist buddies, having a series of comic adventures involving wacky neighbors who try weekly to collect the reward on his head, but never do.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the fictional nature of the hunt, said that bin Laden is probably in Chitral, in far-northern Pakistan. This is based partly on trees that are peculiar to that region that can be seen in a 2003 video in which he says "I will never leave this place, even if I know you think I'm here," and partly on the length of time it takes for audiotapes to make their way to Al-Jazeera when he comments on important events, such as the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut. It usually takes three weeks for bin Laden's reaction to appear on the world's television screens, though teaser trailers can appear much sooner.

As to whether bin Laden remains important to the Bush Crime Family and the wider neoconservative movement, the U.S. military intelligence official said that the terrorist leader continues to have "iconic value -- Stalin and Hitler could not talk to a billion people."

"Bin Laden can [release] a tape claiming he's buddies with John Kerry or Ned Lamont, and the day after it's heard by a billion people. He's bigger than Jesus."

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